I am puzzled by much of the advice to nonprofit organizations, especially in this tight economy. Fundraising consultants admonish boards to give and raise money, and management consulting firms work with nonprofit management to create strategic plans to present to boards and then try to figure out how to get the boards to give and raise the funds. This makes no sense.
In fact, it is the nonprofit boards themselves who “own” nonprofits on behalf of communities, and who have accountability to the community. It is the board’s role to work in concert with the CEO to establish a mission that adds compelling value in service to the community (whether it’s to create a greener world, or foster micro-enterprises, or advance technology literacy for youth through mentoring); envision the organization’s greater potential; make the case; and build the financial resources to accomplish the organization’s important work.
An organization will only thrive if the board puts in place a highly capable, visionary, and expert CEO and works in partnership and with mutual respect for the CEO. In reality, sometimes the CEOs themselves are to a great extent the founders who played a major role in conceiving of and leading their organizations. But the fact is that the best CEOs are humbled to learn that an organization’s prospects are limited without a board comprised of excellent individuals – including talented business executives and professionals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, as well as experts from the field of the nonprofit’s area of work – who truly embrace their role as the governing board.
A board will only share ownership and responsibility for generating revenues if the board is leading the organization in concert with the CEO – not regarded as a tool of consultants, nor merely asked to perform tasks, like making phone calls, without being engaged in a larger governing role.
Certainly, board members’ time must be cherished and not wasted. So good preparation by staff and consultants is critical in researching community needs, the offerings of other providers (the “competition” and/or partnership opportunities), funding opportunities and threats, as well as measuring outcomes, and tracking and reporting constituent input for iterative planning.
Organizations that succeed in this highly competitive environment will be the ones where boards fully engage in robust and meaningful discussions of the mission, vision, and plan, including the revenue model. Through the board’s involvement in true governance, board members will and should expect each other to participate in helping to achieve financial success for the organization, and yes, they will and should gladly make phone calls and even visits to prospective donors!